Powerless in the United States: the third installment in the Powerless in the Pandemic series

Utility companies have disconnected U.S. households more than 5.7 million times since 2020 while shelling out billions to shareholders and top executives, according to Powerless in the U.S., a new report from EPI, Center for Biological Diversity, and BailoutWatch.

This report is the third installment in the Powerless in the Pandemic series, which tracks the worrying rise of utility shutoffs in the face of corporate profiteering that harms customers and the climate. (The first and second reports are here and here.)

In 2022, electricity and gas disconnections jumped compared to the year before, led by fossil fuel price volatility, which hurt households of color in particular, the report found.

When keeping the lights on becomes a priority, we can’t even talk about other basic necessities like water, education, food and healthcare,” said Wykeisha Howe, a Georgia Power customer in Atlanta. “Think about the mental toll it takes on a person who is trying to balance their finances. We have a utility commission that is supposed to look out for the people, but that doesn’t happen at all.

Utilities in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio and Missouri were responsible for about two-thirds of the more than 1.5 million 2022 shutoffs documented nationwide.

The report’s other key findings include:

  • The shutoffs epidemic is growing. Households had their power cut more 1.5 million times in the first 10 months of 2022 (the most recent data available), a 29% increase since the same period last year. In that same period, households were also disconnected from gas more than 380,000 times, a 76% increase over 2021.
  • From 2019 through 2021, the dozen Hall of Shame utilities spent $2.8 billion paying roughly 70 top executives — about $5.9 million per executive per year.
  • The scale of the shutoffs problem is masked by a lack of transparency, with state regulators in 20 states failing to require any disclosures. Florida utilities, which topped the charts of the country’s shutoffs from 2020-2021, stopped reporting in November 2021 when a pandemic-related requirement expired.
  • Federal and state lawmakers and regulators have many options to tackle the shutoffs crisis. The report includes the most comprehensive policy blueprint to date, including everything from banning disconnections to transforming the unaccountable, fossil fuel-soaked system.

The full utilities data table can be found here.

Download the entire report, Powerless in the U.S., as a .pdf here.

Posted by Energy and Policy Institute